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Friday, Apr. 18, 2014

Local man relives his story of 'Day that will live in infamy'

Friday, December 6, 2002

(Photo)
Pearl Harbor survivor Dick Sherrard and his wife, Ella Dee Sherrard, look over newspaper clippings and other mementoes related to the attack on Pearl Harbor
SIKESTON - While born and raised mostly in Morehouse, Charles R. "Dick" Sherrard saw things as a child most people today have only read about in history books.

Sherrard estimated he was only about 6 months old when his family boarded a train for Chicago where his father was to be stationed next.

"Dad was in the Navy," said Sherrard. "He was an officer in the medical field."

After a couple years in Chicago, they were moved again, but to a much nicer climate: after nearly 20 years in the Navy, his father was assigned be the administrator of a Navy medical facility in Hawaii. They planned to settle down there after he retired from the service and bought a home, furniture, a car. It was a good plan, but the timing couldn't have been worse.

They had arrived in June and had been there just about six months when, following their Sunday morning breakfast, they heard the roar of low-flying planes passing overhead.

"There was usually not much going on Sundays," Sherrard said.

His mother went out to have a look, then went back inside to tell her husband she didn't think the planes were theirs: they had red circles under the wings. "He said, 'Oh my god - we're being attacked," said Sherrard.

It was Dec. 7, 1941, and the Japanese were attacking Pearl Harbor.

"We were just a few hundred yards from the ships," he recalled. "We watched the ships sink - we watched them from the house. We could see them."

Sherrard said his mom remembered seeing the Japanese pilots toss hand-held bombs out of the cockpits. "Mom said, 'They're bombing the oil tanks, they're bombing the ships,'" Sherrard said.

Especially painful for their family was seeing the Arizona go down as its marching band had been practicing in the field across from their house and had stayed as guests in their home the Friday before. His mother had asked them to stay longer, but they refused so they could return to their ship.

Upon seeing the attacking planes, his father immediately left to see where he was needed. "We never saw him again till just before the war ended," said Sherrard.

After the second wave of the attack on the harbor, U.S. Army personnel came and led them to a cave up the mountain from the harbor. The area outside the cave was surrounded by barbed wire, and there were 22 U.S. Army soldiers from the base assigned to guard them and the other civilians taken there. "They thought the Japanese were going to invade the island," Sherrard explained.

There were no bathrooms or cooking facilities, but Sherrard and his older spent the next two years of their life at that cave with those soldiers, sleeping on army cots, eating C and K rations heated on vehicle engine manifolds. "They took care of us," he recalled.

His mother would leave to work as a volunteer nurse and to scrounge food when she could, bringing back pineapples and other locally-grown fruit from town.

Sherrard said his mother was among those who watched when they pulled the Japanese midget submarine up from the harbor. Being a slender person who could fit, she even agreed to enter the sub with .45 pistol and make sure the occupants were dead.

After a little over two years, however, his mother became ill and had her fill of caves and scrounging for her children. She decided to risk the trip back to the United States and return home to Morehouse despite warnings wired to her from her husband in Guam and from their Army guards. "Mom said they didn't want us to go because they were afraid something would happen at sea," Sherrard said.

His mother found space aboard the same cruise line ship they had come to Hawaii in - the S.S. Lurline. "But when we came back on it, it was a troop transport for wounded," Sherrard said.

While they barely had room for the Sherrards when leaving Hawaii, it wasn't long before room became available. Among Sherrard's clearest memories of that time are the daily burial at sea ceremonies that took place on the deck.

Fears about the journey turned out to be justified. "They tried to sink us," said Sherrard. "Mom said they put torpedoes out in front of us."

They were held up for weeks before they were eventually able to join up with a convoy and safely complete the journey, arriving in San Francisco after about 70-80 days at sea.

Sherrard said it looked as if they were to be stranded in San Francisco until reporters offered to buy her pictures and recollections of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

"They bought them off her, gave us enough money to get home on plus a Navy man from Morehouse," Sherrard recalled. The man, Edgar Todd, later went on to become Morehouse's postmaster.

When they finally made it home, it was quite a shock. "The family heard that we were killed in war," Sherrard said. "My grandfather said I would never leave again."

After two years among soldiers and two months with sailors, the boys had become accustomed to somewhat wild ways.

"When I got home, I wouldn't sleep in a bed, I didn't want to wear no shoes or shirt, my hair was long," Sherrard recalled. "I didn't want to eat anything unless it came out of a green can. I'd hear an airplane and start hollering, 'Blackout! Blackout!'"

His grandfather went to work changing their habits, and the Sherrard boys soon adjusted to normal civilian life in the Midwest.

Sherrard and his wife, Ella Dee Sherrard, figure he is probably the youngest remaining survivor of those who were at the base during the attack. "There's not too many people who can say they were there," Sherrard said.

Although they still haven't watched the recent movie about the attack, "Pearl Harbor," "Tora! Tora! Tora!" was his father's favorite. "He said it was pretty accurate," Sherrard said.